Our New Streetcar: The TTC Wants To Hear From You! Really! (Update 3)

Updated Dec. 19 at midnight:

At the Dec. 18th TTC meeting, the reports linked below were discussed along with a technical report and appendix from Booz Allen.  Note that these links point to the National Post’s site where they are linked from this article.  As and when the TTC puts them on its own website, I will alter this link to point to the TTC’s copies.

Thanks to Mark Dowling for alerting me to the documents on the Post’s site.

From a friend who attended the meeting, I learned that organized labour made a strong showing arguing for Canadian content and, of course, for the contract to go to Bombardier in Thunder Bay.  Some members of the Commission echoed this position.  I can’t help thinking that they are overplaying their hands on this one.

First off, Bombardier is the only potential bidder with a Canadian rail car manufacturing facility, and this gives them a leg up on costs against any other contender.  Second, the TTC’s decision to opt for a 100% low-floor specification narrows the field of potential suppliers.  At this point, I would be extremely surprised to see more than two bids for this contract, and given the obvious inside track Bombardier has, why Siemens would waste their money bidding against them is a difficult question. 

This gives us the impression of an open proposal call, but there is clear evidence of a desired outcome, and we’re back at the Toronto Rocket subway car order mess all over again.  Light Rail has enough problems in Toronto, not to mention an uphill battle to secure funding from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, without the odour of a predetermined contract.  The last thing we need is for Ottawa to say “you didn’t run the bid properly” as an excuse to back away.

Booz Allen is a major consulting firm for Light Rail projects, among others, and has participated in many studies and designs for new and expanded systems.  The material in their report is drawn from  experience on other systems, and they are vendor-independent.

The information here is no surprise to anyone familiar with the component costs of rapid transit vehicles.  A very large proportion of the new LRVs will be sourced offshore because that’s where components are manufactured.  Half of the cost per car comes from components that are not manufactured in Canada, and this order of LRVs isn’t remotely close to the quantity that would justify anyone setting up a local plant.

Because any 100% low floor car will be based on a European design, the engineering and fabrication work will be done overseas since the expertise and facilities already exist. 

Best case, Booz Allen estimates that 25% of the value of the car order can be provided in Canada, and of this, a goodly chunk is not going to be the work of the folks at Thunder Bay.

If the TTC were to insist on a higher Canadian content, this would effectively lock out every bidder except Bombardier, and even then Toronto would pay a premium to have overseas manufacturing capability duplicated in Canada.  Indeed, if the Can-Con level is set too high, nobody will bid.

Whoever gets this order will be building light rail equipment for the Toronto area for decades.  As I have said before, I have no brief for any would-be supplier, but want only that Toronto gets an excellent car at a good price. 

This contract, plus the Transit City add-ons, will give us Toronto’s streetcar/LRV fleet well into this century.  This is our last chance, after all the years wasted on alternatives, to get LRT right, for it to be a credible form of transit in the GTA.  The last thing we need is a lemon, or “the Edsel of streetcars” as a former TTC Chief General Manager described the CLRVs.

The Request for Proposals will be issued in early 2008.  The next moves are up to the potential bidders and transit’s “funding partners” to prove how serious they are about the future of rail transit in Toronto. Continue reading